5 Ways to Help Your Horse’s Tail be Extra and Awesome

 

Here are some interesting things to know about horse tails, and how to take care of them for maximum health and beauty. Some things we can work on, others are sometimes beyond our control.

 

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1. Work with your horse’s hair growth cycles.

Hair grows in three stages, and for a certain amount of time, not length.

 

  • The anagen phase is when hair is actively growing. This varies with what type of hair is growing – manes and tails are usually longer than body hair, which goes through two big sheds per year.

 

  • The catagen phase comes next. When the anagen phase is over, the hair rests in the follicle, deep in your horse’s skin. While this is happening, a new hair starts to form in that same follicle.

 

  • Next is the telogen phase, when the older hair falls out.

 

You can’t feed, groom, or otherwise manipulate any changes to this cycle.

 

  • HOWEVER! You can help your horse’s tail be the best quality it can be with proper nutrition, exercise, daily care, and even some barn maintenance so that hairs are not snagged on things like fences.

 

  • Unhealthy hair that is stained, tangled, catching on fencing, filled with mud and shavings, will likely break, causing a shortening of the hair. You won’t see it grow to it’s healthiest potential.

 

gorgeous jumper tail

That’s a lot of gorgeous tail flapping in the wind. This jumper appears to have a banged tail.

 

2. Decide if you are going to bang the tail or not.

 

  • Banging a tail is just a fancy way of saying trimming ends so they are blunt and equal. This is often discipline and/or breed-specific! Hunters have natural tails, dressage horses are usually banged.

 

  • While banging does create a visually appealing tail with more volume, it will shorten the tail itself. But it takes care of extra dry, stained, bleached, or brittle ends. Natural tails can, of course, be lush and full, it’s just a different ending to the story.

 

  • For long tails at risk of being stepped on, you can consider banging as a way to avoid that painful situation.

 

3. Daily care is key to keeping a nice tail.

 

  • I’ve never been a fan of working on a horse’s tail weekly or monthly, it’s always better to work on things daily. Stains can get worse, tangles can multiply, and itchy skin can cause more rubbing. And is it just me that mare tails require a bit more attention?

 

  • It doesn’t really matter if you brush or pick the hair daily, just as long as you check on what’s going on and then do your routine.

 

wide tooth comb on a tail

Wide-tooth combs are helpful!

 

Check for tail hair stains and rubbed-out patches on a daily basis.

 

Stains. This might be a urine stain, mud stain, manure stain, or mystery stain.

 

  • For mares that tend to have a urine-soaked tail, you may consider loosely braiding the top of the tail to keep some of the hairs out of the way. You can also try a tail bag, but sometimes these just help to catch any urine. More of the tail could get wet.

 

  • For smaller, mystery, or more simple stains, you can use a dry shampoo like Easy Out to clean them. This is also deodorizing! Or, you may want to use a hot cloth to wipe the stain off.

 

  • If mud is your primary issue, consider using mud knots or tail bags during turnouts. Additionally, using a conditioner or grooming oil on the tail will help keep the mud at bay. You will still have mud, but it is much easier to remove and less can take hold. Also, it’s a great way to condition the tail hairs to repel stains.

 

 

mud knot on chestnut horse tail

Easy peasy lemon squeezy to make a mud knot. (I swear I’m an adult)

 

Rubbed out hairs on the tail bone.

 

  • Horses that rub their tails do so because something itches! But here’s the thing – before you go pouring Listerine on the tail, do a bit of detective work and find out WHY. You will save tail hair and money in the process.

Things to look for that cause a horse to have an itchy tail:

 

  • Bug bites and ticks – Usually, a tick bite will itch after the tick has fallen off. Sometimes not. You may find some swelling in an area or hives, too.

 

  • Dandruff – Also known as dander, dandruff is dead skin that’s flaking off. It’s often associated with dry skin, which may be seasonal, or related to a lack of sebum (natural oils) on the skin. More on that in a bit.

 

  • Lice – You can see these tiny creepy crawlies. BLECH. Your vet will need to give you a plan of action and perhaps a prescription to take care of this.

 

  • Mites – These microscopic jerks aren’t visible to the naked eye, but you will see oily, scaly, irritated skin, usually with hair loss. Again, your vet is the solution.

 

  • A dirty sheath or udders – Sometimes, a buildup of smegma is itchy, and his butt is the closest thing he can scratch easily. Try and use warm water and avoid any super oily things, as they don’t rinse away easily.

 

  • Pinworms – although you can’t see pinworm eggs, they will make your horse itch like mad. These creepy worms live just inside your horse’s anus, and come out at night to lay their eggs around your horse’s anus. Your vet can help you determine if this is the cause of your horse’s tail rubbing. More on pinworms here and also BLECH.

 

  • Sweet itch – this insane reaction to a tiny midge fly creates massive itching along a horse’s topline, from ears to butt. It does get over time without intervention, so you may see it on his rump with or without other areas. Sweet itch is also cyclical. As the itchy skin is scratched, it’s often damaged and sores can happen. These also itch, making your horse scratch even more. More on sweet itch here!

 

 

braided tail on chestnut horse

Some horses may benefit from a loose tail braid below the tailbone. Make sure your horse isn’t battling flies, he will need all the hair he has for that.

 

4. Shampoo, condition, and rinse properly

 

  • I’ve said it a thousand times, and I’ll say it again. No detergents, laundry products, furniture cleaner, or household cleaners on your horse. This takes away his natural oil (sebum), which is part of his immune system. Sebum creates shine, protects the hairs, and has anti-microbial properties.

 

  • Without natural oils, your horse’s hair gets brittle – which makes stains more profound and breakage more likely.

 

  • Use gentle horse shampoos, and follow with a healthy dose of conditioner if you like. Rinse until the cows come home! You can also add a white vinegar rinse for added shine and to get any residue off. Grooming oils like No. 1 Light Oil are great for adding more shine and keeping things soft and conditioned. A tiny bit goes a long way!

 

groom working on a horse's tail at a horse show

This horse’s tail is definitely extra.

 

5. Do some barn management re-arranging and shopping (!) if you need to.

 

  • It’s a good idea, anyway, to be sure your horse’s environment is safe. No nails or screw heads poking out, fence boards are secure, there are no hooks or hardware close to where your horse rubs his body and butt. Sure, you may need to hang water buckets, but there shouldn’t be much else poking out for your horse to snag his tail on.

 

  • Fencing makes for a wonderful butt scratching device, and tails love to get snagged if your horse is grazing nearby. I’m a huge fan of electric fencing anyway to keep horses from getting anything tangled. Legs, necks, and tails included.

 

  • If your horse wears a fly sheet or horse blankets in the winter, consider using one with a tail flap. The tail flap is a great way to help keep things clean.

 

  • Or, ditch the tail flap. For some horses, the tail flap will actually make it easier for urine and/or manure to hit the tail.

 

 

Being diligent on a daily basis and proper care will help your horse have the best tail possible! It’s very tempting to blast the snot out of stains and use Listerine, but instead, plan for the marathon instead of the sprint.

Happy grooming!

 

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